My parents are moving to the neighborhood! Since my husband and I first moved to Montclair, they have been enamored this quiet little enclave high in the hills of Oakland. My mom, despite having grown up in coal mining territory- Beckley, West Virginia, was at first terrified of the steep, guardrail-free drive required to arrive at our house. Not at all mollified by the gorgeous vistas of the bay, or the sparkling bridges beyond, she averted her eyes, her white knuckles grasping the back of my headrest for dear life. My dad, comfortable in most any situation, was more sanguine, happily commenting on the new environment as we snaked higher and higher into the clouds, asking a slew of pertinent questions (“So how many people live in Oakland?” What is the elevation?”) that we were ill equipped to answer.
I remember that first visit as if it were yesterday. They had come to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary with us and our friends. We planned a party for about 50 of our nearest and dearest, a group that also included my dad’s best friend from childhood, whom we hadn’t yet met although he lived in Oakland, and a surprise visit from my eldest cousin who lives in Indianapolis, my dad’s hometown.
For most families, a celebration of this milestone would have been commonplace. For ours, it was extraordinary. While the institution of marriage is revered, the ceremony around it has never been all that important to any of us. My parents, my mother’s sister, and my grandparents before them, all were married in a low key fashion at a local courthouse by the justice of the peace.(“We JP'ed it” my aunt says of the day of her union with my uncle, also 50+ years ago) I’m not sure if any photos exist of these . I have never seen them.
When my husband and I were planning our nuptials, he asked/ urged me to invite my parents to “our big day”. Caught up in the moment, and buoyed by his enthusiasm, I did. I regretted it as soon as the words left my mouth. “Why?” my mother asked me in response to my invitation. I stumbled a bit at the answer, myself, “We thought you and dad might like to be a part of our special day, and, um would like to witness us…” My words drifted off over the phone lines connecting me to the house where I grew up, to the east coast where I knew my mom was cradling the phone to her ear, perched on her favorite couch in the artwork lined family room. Never short of words, she interjected, “Look, Dorian, when your father and I got married many years ago, we paid an inebriated man $20 to be our witness. Are kids not doing that nowadays?”
That was eight years ago, when my father was still able pick out suits and ties and dress himself. Now, on warm summer days, my mom will tuck him into T-shirt we gifted him from a local company that proudly proclaims Oakland's population and elevation under the outlines of a rooted oak tree, and will gently remind him that Oakland is where my husband and I live.
So finally they will return to the Bay Area. Not to Montclair exactly, “About an hour away. That is close enough. We need our privacy.” as my mom succinctly put it. And I couldn’t be happier.